SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — Giving birth during the coronavirus pandemic can frighten many expecting parents, especially if the mother has COVID-19. A new study puts some of those fears to rest, revealing babies are no more at risk for respiratory problems and other issues whether their mother tests positive for COVID or not.
“The babies are doing well, and that’s wonderful,” says lead author Valerie J. Flaherman of UC San Francisco in a release. “When coronavirus first hit, there were so many strange and unfortunate issues tied to it, but there was almost no information on how COVID-19 impacts pregnant women and their newborns. We didn’t know what to expect for the babies, so this is good news.”
Researchers say even six to eight weeks after birth, few infants from COVID-positive mothers experience adverse outcomes. These problems can include preterm birth, neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) admission, and respiratory diseases like pneumonia.
The study, looking at 263 babies, does find more infants being taken to the NICU if the mother has COVID-19 up to two weeks before the delivery. Of the 44 total babies admitted to the NICU however, none of the cases were for pneumonia or lower respiratory tract infections.
The California team says 179 mothers in the study tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19. The other 84 women tested negative. Among those testing positive for coronavirus, 81 percent were symptomatic. Surprisingly, 63 percent of women testing negative also experienced symptoms before delivery.
Odds of newborn baby catching COVID from mom extremely low
The greatest fear surrounding COVID-19 is that severe cases will lead to pneumonia, lung damage, and the need for a ventilator. The study reveals 56 infants were examined for possible upper respiratory infections after birth, but only two cases were confirmed from COVID-positive mothers and one from a COVID-negative mother. Study authors estimate the chance of a newborn baby testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 is just 1.1 percent.
“Overall, the initial findings regarding infant health are reassuring, but it’s important to note that the majority of these births were from third trimester infections,” says senior author Stephanie L. Gaw, assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at UCSF.
Researchers add that previous studies warn of an increased risk of preterm birth in mothers with coronavirus. These reports also warn of higher chances for transmitting the virus to newborns, but the overall risk was not known. There was also very little information on how COVID-19 impacts babies as they grow.
How do illnesses affect pregnant women?
The UCSF report is part of PRIORITY (Pregnancy Coronavirus Outcomes Registry), a national project beginning in March 2020 which is examining pregnant and postpartum women and their infants during the pandemic.
Researchers explain that pregnant women experience alterations in their immune systems that can increase their chances of severe illness from the flu. Expecting mothers contracting the flu tend to have higher risks of hospitalization, miscarriage, stillbirth, or delivering babies with birth defects.
This study on COVID-19 complications finds only two infants with mothers testing positive for coronavirus in the final trimester have birth defects. One mother testing negative gave birth to a child with defects.
Study authors caution that this new report may not account for false-positive or false-negative results. They add that the initial group of mothers underrepresents Latinas and Blacks. PRIORITY is now continuing to look at pregnant women and increasing minority enrollment in the research.
The study appears in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.